Best 12V Impact Driver Results Still Dominated By Milwaukee M12 FUEL
Having tested over 30 of the best impact drivers, we put them through a wide range of evaluations. For those looking for even lighter-weight solutions, we made sure to include compact models. As it turns out, some of the most compact include several of the best 12V impact drivers on the market. When it was all over, a few models rose above the others in performance, noise output, and value.
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Best 12V Cordless Impact Driver Overall
Milwaukee M12 FUEL 3453 (Gen 3)
The Milwaukee M12 FUEL 3453 dominates the 12V impact driver class on several fronts. In general, the M12 line has more tools than several other 12V platforms combined. Aside from that, the fourth-generation M12 impact driver adds more power, more speed, and—finally!—a 3-LED light ring around the 1/4-inch hex collet.
Even better? This tool measures just 5 inches in head length and weighs a scant 2 pounds!
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Quietest 12V Cordless Impact Driver
Milwaukee M12 FUEL Surge
In both our fastening and nut-busting tests, the Milwaukee M12 FUEL Surge neared the very top of the charts. It was the very first 12V we ever tested that hit over 1000 in-lbs in our fastening test. It was also the very first to surpass 2000 in-lbs in our nut-busting test. That’s a great legacy.
Best Lightweight 12V Cordless Impact Driver
Bosch 12V Impact Driver PS42
Moving onto size doesn’t move us away from Milwaukee, but it does introduce a couple of other brands. Bosch used to have the 12V impact driver with the smallest overall footprint, though no more. While the M12 FUEL Gen 3 sports a shorter head length, both tools weigh about the same. For some reason, the Bosch simply feels slightly lighter—possibly due to the balance of the tool.
The Bosch PS42 impact driver weighs just 1.6 pounds before you add the 2.0Ah battery. It truly feels like a compact tool and helps you get into tight spaces more easily. Note that if you truly need the most possible clearance, the newest Milwaukee M12 (12V) impact driver still gives you a slight edge.
Other Super-Compact 12V Options
- Milwaukee M12 FUEL Impact Driver
Best 12V Cordless Impact Driver for the Money
Skil’s $59 kit price is compelling with impressive performance for what’s allegedly a DIY tool. You get 1500 in-lbs of maximum torque at up to 2900 RPM. With a short head length, it also gives you a rather compact size when tackling those tough-to-reach jobs.
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Best 12V Impact Driver Buying Guide
We test impact drivers in a variety of ways to determine their power, speed, and versatility. When possible, we verify manufacturer specs and check the basics—like speed, weight, and size. From there we get into the more challenging aspects of testing products, such as power, torque, and how quickly these tools will drive appropriate loads into various materials.
A great example of testing capabilities includes observing the tool’s fastening speed while setting various wood screws. For more powerful drills and impact drivers we use ledger screws and lag bolts. For 12V impact drivers, we focus on lesser loads since these tools don’t often get called upon to secure ledger boards to houses!
Comparing the speed at which various drills accomplish these fastening tasks lets us rank them appropriately. This—in conjunction with the manufacturer’s target demographics—helps us confirm which models work best for professionals and which are more geared towards DIY or occasional-use tasks.
Fastening efficiency is a measure of how much effort an impact driver has to use to drive a ledger screw. We want to get a feel for how quickly (in terms of RPMs) the tool drives fasteners while under load. After all—that top speed isn’t very impressive if it only spins that fast before it engages a fastener. A tool that can keep upo speed while under load presents much less strain on the motor—meaning it’s likely to last a lot longer.
Typically, even the best 12V impact drivers produce less power, speed, and efficiency than their 18V cousins. Still, we look for those that “punch above their weight class.”
While our torque tests do not and cannot replace how manufacturers test for their specifications, they do tell us a bit about power. Manufacturers typically provide hard torque numbers. We test soft torque on our L-1000 Inertia Torque Impact Torque Tester as well as practical tests driving ledger screws into stacked OSB.
This gives us a set of data points from which we can derive rankings and get a good feel for these small-but-powerful tools.
We always compare weight to know who’s making the lightest tool for better ergononics. Of course, if less weight also yields less power—well, that’s information we want as well. In the case of most 12V impact drivers, manufacturers have been consistently reducing size without sacrificing power or runtime.
Head length is the most critical dimension when you’re looking for an impact driver that can fit into small spaces. Some models now measure around 5 inches from the back of the tool to the tip of the hex collet. Compared to the best impact drivers of just 5 years ago, newer models are shaving an inch or more from those lengths.
With respect to the head lengths of current tools—they definitely vary from short to long, so if you want a more compact tool, pay attention to that spec.
12V impact drivers aren’t quite as feature-rich as the 18V models, but there are still some things worth pointing out before you make a decision on which one to bring home. We look for driving modes in particular as well as the style of LED lighting and bit insertion/ejection.
Thankfully, 12V impact drivers give our ears a small break over their noisy 18V cousins, but they’re still pretty loud. Well, except the M12 Fuel Surge. Using an SPL meter, we measure sound from the ear to the tool—roughly 24-inches awayt to get an idea of how loud these tools are. One thing stands out—oil impulse impact drivers put out much less sound than their regular counterparts!
For us, value is so much more than just a price list. It’s how that price compares to the performance, design, and a host of other considerations that play into your experience as an owner of that tool. We put all of that data into our algorithm to calculate what that value is.
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